AAS 197, January 2001
Session 86. Innovations in Teaching Astronomy I
Joint Display, Wednesday, January 10, 2001, 9:30am-7:00pm, Exhibit Hall

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[86.01] Strategies for Teaching Astronomy

J. Bennett (U. Colorado)

No matter whether you are teaching school children, undergraduates, or colleagues, a few key strategies are always useful. I will present and give examples for the following five key strategies for teaching astronomy.

1. Provide a Contextual Framework: It is much easier to learn new facts or concepts if they can be ``binned" into some kind of pre-existing mental framework. Unless your listeners are already familiar with the basic ideas of modern astronomy (such as the hierarchy of structure in the universe, the scale of the universe, and the origin of the universe), you must provide this before going into the details of how we've developed this modern picture through history.

2. Create Conditions for Conceptual Change: Many people hold misconceptions about astronomical ideas. Therefore we cannot teach them the correct ideas unless we first help them unlearn their prior misconceptions.

3. Make the Material Relevant: It's human nature to be more interested in subjects that seem relevant to our lives. Therefore we must always show students the many connections between astronomy and their personal concerns, such as emphasizing how we are ``star stuff" (in the words of Carl Sagan), how studying other planets helps us understand our own, and so on.

4. Limit Use of Jargon: The number of new terms in many introductory astronomy books is larger than the number of words taught in many first courses in foreign language. This means the books are essentially teaching astronomy in a foreign language, which is a clear recipe for failure. We must find ways to replace jargon with plain language.

5. Challenge Your Students: Don't dumb your teaching down; by and large, students will rise to meet your expectations, as long as you follow the other strategies and practice good teaching.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to http://casa.colorado.edu/~jbennett. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: jbennett@casa.colorado.edu

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